Ordered Processing of JMS Messages

This is something I’ve taken for granted for as long as I’ve known about JMS – that messages are often going to need to be processed in the order in which they were sent, therefore it must be possible. Thankfully it is possible, though it’s not the default behavior, and the mechanism for achieving it was not as obvious as I was expecting. Hence this blog post. Everything below is JBoss AS 7.1.1 / HornetQ specific, though the concepts should be translatable between vendors to some degree.

The Two Types


The key here is “message grouping”. The JMS spec states that all messages with the same group ID (“JMSXGroupID”) will be consumed in order. In practice this usually means that in an environment where a queue has multiple consumers (eg: a single application server instance with a pool of consumers per queue), all messages with the same group ID value will be sent to the same consumer, in order. Since each consumer typically runs on its own thread, using the same consumer prevents race conditions that would otherwise occur if messages are delivered to the consumers in order but processed out of order due to thread scheduling.

Happily, for JBoss AS 7.1.1 this even holds true when using a cluster where there are pools of consumers running on multiple servers, though it does take some configuration, particularly if you want to avoid a single point of failure. The general approach is exactly the same, with the additional requirement that if the assigned consumer for a given group ID is on a different server to the one that the message was sent to, the message will simply be forwarded to the server containing the appropriate consumer.


While topics are usually associated with multiple concurrent processors, they can be configured such that only one consumer in the whole cluster will process each message, using durable subscriptions. This gives effectively the same result as the above queue setup, but the configuration is all done on the MDBs that consume the messages, so no specific server config is required, and no single point of failure is introduced. Additionally, if you have multiple applications and want each application to process each message once only, that can also be achieved. The trick here is to configure each MDB with a unique client ID, and a limit of 1 concurrent session. In the example below, all messages to the HELLOTopic will be processed only once, in order, by the¬†HelloWorldTopicMDB. In contrast to a queue, this does not preclude other applications from also consuming these messages. They can either process the messages normally (concurrently), or if they too want to process messages in order, one at a time, they would just use a different value for “subscriptionName” and “clientId”.

@MessageDriven(name = "HelloWorldQTopicMDB", activationConfig = {
    propertyName = "destinationType", propertyValue = "javax.jms.Topic"),
    propertyName = "destination", propertyValue = "topic/HELLOTopic"),
    propertyName = "subscriptionName", propertyValue = "helloWorldApp"),
    propertyName = "clientId", propertyValue = "helloWorldApp"),
    propertyName = "subscriptionDurability", propertyValue = "Durable"),
    propertyName = "maxSession", propertyValue = "1"),
    propertyName = "acknowledgeMode", propertyValue = "Auto-acknowledge")})
public class HelloWorldTopicMDB implements MessageListener {
    public void onMessage(Message rcvMessage) {

The only thing you might need to do here is to lift the security restriction on creating durable subscriptions. Something like this in standalone-full(-ha).xml, but obviously more secure for production:

  <security-setting match="#">
    <permission type="createDurableQueue" roles="guest"/>
    <permission type="deleteDurableQueue" roles="guest"/>


Out of these two options, Queues provide potential for a performant solution. That’s because if your business logic allows you can use multiple dynamic group IDs so that messages from different groups can still be processed concurrently, improving overall throughput. For example, if it is enough to serialise all messages for each individual customer, customer.id can be used as the group ID, and many different customer’s messages can be processed simultaneously.

The downside to using queues is that in a clustered deployment they require some configuration and introduce a single point of failure into the system (surmountable with yet more configuration – a whole hot backup instance for the one-true-grouping-handler).

Using topics on the other hand requires no special server configurations in a clustered deployment, and no single point of failure is introduced. Messages will happily be balanced across the cluster, processed one at a time, even as servers come and go.

The downside to using Topics is that although their load is balance across the JMS thread pool / cluster, there is only ever one message being processed at a time. If your business logic requires this anyway, or you can live with this performance constraint, then using Topics may be preferable for their simplicity.